A decade after astronauts started living on the International Space Station, the Web site Space.com asks whether the orbiting laboratory has been worth its estimated $100 billion price tag.
It’s hard to make the case that the ISS justified this enormous investment. The space station has produced little in the way of scientific knowledge, particularly when compared to much less expensive projects like the magnificent Hubble Space Telescope.
What the space station has done, of course, is provide a destination for the U.S. space shuttle while maintaining a permanent human presence in Earth orbit. For now, that is the space station’s biggest payoff. Now that station construction is nearly complete, NASA and its international partners need to find new ways to use the space station to expand human knowledge about our planet and the universe.
An upcoming conference sponsored by American Astronautical Society will examine the space station’s role over the next decade.
George Zamka, commander of the last February’s shuttle Endeavor flight to the space station, told me he had tears in his eyes when he looked down at Earth from a cupola window installed by his crew. The sweeping vista of our planet from orbit is one clear if intangible benefit of the space station. But many more are needed.
Asked what he will do after the shuttle program ends, Zamka said he is working to develop new skills so he can live and work aboard the space station. Added the two-time shuttle astronaut, “I’m just looking for my next ride.”